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24 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alan Barnes

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st May 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th May 2012

Derbyshire in the year 1979. The Doctor and Leela arrive in the middle of a hunt for a missing girl.

Confronted by suspicious locals and the retired though rather unhinged Colonel Spindelton, the travellers begin to discover that everyone is living in fear of an ancient legend from the time of the Romans. It tells of a great White Worm, living in the Dark Peak Gap surfacing only for the flesh of animals or children.

Since the Derbyshire countryside is rife with trails of mysterious slime and missing people, all evidence suggests that the Worm is much more than a mere legend.

The Doctor begins his investigation of the strange events but he is not the only Time Lord interested in the White Worm. This Time Lord has been waiting and planning for a long time and the Worm is essential to his schemes. The Doctor is about to confront an ancient evil and a very old nemesis. 

Trail of the White Worm is not only a love letter to Bram Stoker and the Hammer Horror influences of the Philip Hinchcliffe era, but the return of The Master to Big Finish.

It is no secret that the character was coming back and the weight of expectation to see Geoffrey Beevers return to the role opposite Tom Baker was huge. The last time these two actors met as their characters was Baker’s penultimate story The Keeper of Traken, so it is a little disappointing that this adventure is not as strong as one would hope.

Having said that when The Master is present Beevers’ performance is sublime; dripping with menace, charm and a gleefully sadistic nature. When The Doctor and The Master finally confront one another it is tantalisingly brief but promises great moments to come in the next story.

Trail of the White Worm is a standalone adventure which concludes as a direct set up for the finale of the first Fourth Doctor season. It is only towards the end of part two that we see the story setting up the next act and this rather hurts it, as, upon reflection, the story begins to feel a little rushed. This is a shame as the concept and ideas on display here are so good.

As soon as The Doctor and Leela arrive we head straight into the adventure, and the marvellously mysterious characters that are set up either have their motivations exposed quickly or are dispatched just as fast. This is more evident in the supporting characters such as the wonderfully mad Colonel Spindelton and the rather enigmatic Demesne Furze. Spindelton’s motivations are explained but his reasoning for siding with The Master seems rather fickle but then again people have done far worse things for the most selfish of excuses. Furze, a character we eventually learn is crucial not only to this story but in helping to spark the beginning of the next one comes perilously close to being merely a plot device by the end. This is in no way a reflection on the cast as everyone is on top form.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson continue the wonderful rapport they have built throughout this season and once again prove that age and time are no barriers to them returning to these classic parts. Michael Cochrane is fantastic as the barking mad Spindelton and Rachel Stirling creates a real sense of mystery in her portrayal as Furze which elevates her character from becoming too much of a device to simply get the story going. 

Trail of the White Worm feels like it should have been a much longer and darker tale than what we have here, but despite its flaws it is still very entertaining, but you cannot escape the feeling that this story is merely a stepping stone to a much larger one.

2 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Barnaby Edwards 

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 2nd May 2012

It is 1926 and in Calcutta, The Doctor and his companions arrive, not to soak up the atmosphere of Imperial India, but to watch a cricket match. Things are never that simple in The Doctor’s life as they are immediately attacked by a rabid man who infects Nyssa with a virus. After the TARDIS and the urgently needed medical supplies end up on a private train, The Doctor and his companions are separated. Helped by a local archaeologist he discovers that there is more to Nyssa’s condition than meets the eye.

All roads seem to be leading deep within the jungle, to a lost land where nature, myth and evil lurk. This is the realm of the fabled Emerald Tiger.

This is the first in the third trilogy of stories featuring The Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough. It is pleasing to know that Big Finish has a lot of faith in these releases as The Emerald Tiger is certainly one of the best plays for this TARDIS team since Heroes of Sontar.

For a start the performances from the entire cast are excellent. The main TARDIS crew, especially Peter Davison are on top form and it reminds you just why this is one of the strongest groupings in the main Big Finish range. 

Barnaby Edwards has put together a stellar supporting cast with the wonderful Cherie Lunghi leading the charge as Lady Forster. Lunghi instils in the Lady Forster, a quiet but very strong sense of dignity and resolve in the face of extreme personal danger and in dealing with the tragedy that the character has suffered. It is the strongest performance in the play and I hope that Lunghi’s services are called on again by Big Finish as she has a natural voice for audio.

Central to the story are both the roles of Professor Narayan and the highly intriguing character of Dawon played by the lovely Vineeta Rishi. It would be a horrible thing to spoil the true motivation and nature of their characters (especially Dawon) so I shall refrain from giving too much away. Both actors are very well cast and both characters are our guides into the realm of the Emerald Tiger and the dark secrets that lie within.

Neil Stacy is great as the villainous bounder Major Haggard, who, as The Doctor rightly observes is “a walking embodiment of everything that’s going to bring down the British Raj.” He is dastardly, cold and sometimes rather charming despite the awful deeds he commits. But Haggard is just small fry compared to the real villain of the piece.

Shardul Khan is a wonderful creation; a character hidden in the shadows until the conclusion, his menace is excellently conveyed by the vocal talent of Vincent Ebrahim and his performance is one of the plays many highlights.

From a technical point of view, The Emerald Tiger is brilliant as it offers an incredibly rich sound design by Howard Carter who also provides a suitably beautiful and authentic score. Barnaby Edwards and Carter have worked closely together on the Textbook Stuff audio book series and Carter brings the same quality and skill to Big Finish. Carter’s work gives the play an incredibly epic feel and does much to story the imagination during the many action sequences Edwards has put into the story. 

Edwards had littered The Emerald Tiger with many references to the colonial literature of India under British rule and anything pulp related. There are strong echoes of The Jungle Book, King Solomon’s Mines and even a charming nod to Tarzan. Characters have names such as Forster and Burroughs which are of course all linked strongly to the jungle tale theme. Listeners who are familiar with their literature will enjoy spotting the references whilst being swept along by the story.

The Emerald Tiger is an adventure story steeped in the mythology and magic one associates with India particularly of that period. For the first three parts of the play the pace is kept very high; even expositional conversations feel exciting and there are many classic action set pieces used throughout. From a car crash to a fight for survival on a train, there really is never a fully dull moment in this play.

The only sad thing is that a little of the momentum of the first three parts is lost near the conclusion of the fourth. The play seems to wrap itself up a little too quickly and there is a slight lack of an emotional pay off. This IS merely a minor niggle from me as there is so much to enjoy here.

The Emerald Tiger is a highly enjoyable play and an incredibly strong start in a new trilogy from one of Big Finish’s finest Writer / Directors.

26 April 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Richard Dinnick

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th April 2012

The TARDIS arrives in Siberia near the end of the 19th century as shooting star has falls from the sky. Its arrival heralds a strange illness that effects not only the local population but the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan. The object from the stars brings not only sickness but knowledge so powerful it would be catastrophic in the wrong hands.

With time running out Ian Chesterton must rely on the help of a mysterious wanderer Grigory, a man who believes God has granted him the gift to heal those in need. The stakes are high for Ian as the alien object offers not only answers to save The Doctor but the chance he and Barbara have been waiting for: a way home.

The Wanderer is an interesting Companion Chronicle as it not only a rather good story but a lovely exploration of what it is to be a wanderer who wishes to go home.

The strongest part of this release is the great William Russell, a man with a real gift for narration and character. Whenever I hear a new Ian Chesteron Companion Chronicle I always imagine sitting by the fire with a drink, listening to Ian recount his adventures, such is the quiet brilliance of Russell’s performances. They are special as he is one of the old guard; the original TARDIS team and just listening to him you‘re instantly transported back to that golden era in 1963.

It is not so much a spoiler to reveal Grigory’s true identity as writer, Richard Dinnick piles the clues up to such a degree it would be foolish not to guess this wanderer is the infamous “Mad Monk” Rasputin. In an odd way The Wanderer acts as a sort of origin story for Rasputin, playing with the legend of the man’s supposedly mystical healing powers and gifts of prophecy. Tim Chipping is excellent in the role of Grigory, adding a more troubled and human element to this most vilified of historical figures.

The rest of the story which deals with the alien race responsible for the alien object and the resolution of Rasputin's story are interesting but what really captures your attention is the insight into Ian Chesterton. He is a man who, despite being fascinated by his adventures with The Doctor, is absolutely determined to get home. It is a striking reminder that in recent years, The Doctor’s companions have been so up for adventure it is easy to forget that Ian and Barbara ended up in the TARDIS by accident. They didn’t ask to be wanderers in the fourth dimension; they do not want to be facing death every other day. He wants to be at home, with the familiar and the comforting, such as a pint of beer at the pub or listening to the Test Match Special. Much is made that Ian has Barbara with him, a friendship and someone he loves and values very deeply. Barbara is someone Ian can relate to as they are in this situation together and the outcome at this time is unknown.

Of course we all know that Ian and Barbara will get home but it is fascinating to explore the hope, disappointment and sheer determination that Ian has to get back to his old life.

The Wanderer is an absorbing tale in which, despite its good story and guest star, is more interesting when it focuses on Ian himself.

That said any Companion Chronicle in which William Russell is involved is more than worth your time.

26 April 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th April 2012

The Doctor and Leela return to Earth in the year 2025. The planet is suffering a severe energy crisis and the GlobeSphere Corporation is about to test a solution. With a giant satellite dish at the top of the National Gallery in London, head of GlobeSphere and radical thinker Damien Stephens' plans save humanity. But talk of backroom deals and corruption has brought thousands of protestors to Trafalgar Square lead by Stephen’s former colleague Jack Coulson. But something is very wrong. 

Before landing, The Doctor detected a mysterious energy signal and the crowds are being dispersed and arrested by armed GlopeSphere employees. It isn’t long before the Doctor and Leela are separated and with Coulson’s help the Time Lord begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together. 

Has Damien Stephens not just sold out on his beliefs but humanity as well? The source of the energy signal will bring The Doctor face to face once again with his deadliest enemy.

We all know that this is the one we have been waiting for. The Fourth Doctor is back against the Daleks in this fun adventure from Dalek supreme Nicholas Briggs.

The Fourth Doctor’s encounters with The Daleks on television were rather odd affairs, as Genesis of the Daleks and Destiny of the Daleks were very much centred on Davros. Briggs has chosen wisely to tell a very traditional Dalek story, using the nostalgic elements of the Dalek stories we love, such as including the Robomen, the main antagonist under their control. Even their ultimate plan brings The Dalek Invasion of Earth strongly to mind. While some may think of this as heavy borrowing, I would argue that as a piece of nostalgia, Energy of the Daleks hits all the right notes.

For a two parter, the plot moves at a breckneck pace and there is enough going on and satisfactory resolution to the story that it never feels rushed.

Do the Daleks fare well in this story?  Nicholas Briggs has always been one of the best writers for Daleks but here some avid listeners of Big Finish may feel he has taken a bit of a step back. Big Finish has done much to evolve The Daleks as characters in their previous audio adventures, including Briggs' own Dalek Empire series.

There are times when a Dalek should simply be a Dalek, a squawking, scheming tin can of cybernetic nastiness and this is the direction Briggs has chosen to take. It is a lot of fun to hear them get angry when The Doctor outsmarts them and is enough to tickle the most cynical bone of any fan.

This was the first audio Tom Baker recorded for Big Finish and there are moments when you can tell he is searching for the character again, finding the balance between the humour and drama. But this in no way damages his performance as he is still very much The Fourth Doctor.

Louise Jameson is simply excellent as Leela and due to her strong performance you can easily believe Leela would possess a powerful enough mind to resist a Dalek Mind probe. What has been so impressive throughout these adventures so far is Big Finish’s keenness to right some of the sexist wrongs imposed on past companions, such as Leela preferring trainers over high heels. It is a simple moment but creates a very strong image.

The supporting cast is excellent even if some of the characters don’t get much room to develop. By far the strongest are Damien Stephen’s and Jack Coulson, played very well by Alex Rowe and Mark Benton.

Lydia Harding and Dan Starkey do well with what they have but the running time obviously does not allow much depth for their characters to be explored.

Despite some weaknesses, Energy of the Daleks is a highly fun romp, made more special by seeing The Fourth Doctor once again clash with his greatest enemy. 

30 March 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: William Gallagher

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st March 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th March 2012

In the year 16127, the once devastated and abandoned planet Earth is slowly being repopulated forty years after the colonists of Nerva Beacon returned. Those who have been chosen for the program find living conditions are from tough to the extreme. Transmat scientist Roger Buchman, his wife Veronica and daughter Toasty arrive at one of the new settlements on an island surrounded by the frozen waters of what was once called Loch Lomond.

The island is empty and the other crew members are nowhere to be found. As if that is not enough trouble to deal with, two complete strangers beam in from Nerva city, calling themselves Flip and The Doctor. It isn’t long before the horrific fate of the crew is discovered and The Doctor realizes an old enemy is lurking, hidden under the ice waiting to emerge and feed. But what do the Wirrn want other than hosts for their eggs? Who is the mysterious voice that taunts Flip over the two way radio and just what connection does it have to the Buchman family’s tragic past?

The Wirrn have always been a fascinatingly gruesome foe for The Doctor, and in Wirrn Isle (their second appearance in a Big Finish audio since the superb Wirrn Dawn), we get to see how the absorption of their host’s memories and personality can cause heartbreak and devastation on a galactic scale. The Wirrn were a strikingly visual creature on television, so it is up to the excellent sound design of Simon Robinson to bring every sinister chirp they make to life, creating a instant feeling of dread once they are heard.

The majority of The Wirrn swarm are used sparingly in the play, allowing the scenes in which the character of Iron appears, to have more of an emotional punch producing some genuinely chilling moments, such as the scene where he stalks Flip out on the ice over the radio. It is incredibly creepy and memorable scene.

Colin Baker is of course on top form as The Doctor, playing not only the scientific expert but a mediator between the warring factions of the Buchman family. The Doctor knows the terrible danger that he and the others are in and his struggle to keep them all together in the face of the ever growing danger is riveting to listen to. It is lovely to hear how The Doctor is becoming almost like a worried parent towards Flip and this is really rather touching. The Sixth Doctor has been lucky that Big Finish has provided him with such distinctive and likeable companions and in this trilogy he has struck gold again.

The wonderful Lisa Greenwood utterly shines as Flip, a character I personally am becoming fonder of the more I hear of her. Greenwood’s strong, funny and sweet natured performance has been one of the highlights of this series of plays. The scene in which she lies, broken and battered after a flight in a mini airplane while her blood has frozen her to the ice as The Wirrn begin to emerge is a truly nerve shredding moment and Greenwood sells every moment of it.

What is great about Flip is summed up by The Doctor himself in that he is not sure whether she is incredibly brave or foolhardy. The attention devoted to this idea makes one wonder whether this will be revisited in future stories with Flip of which I hope there will be many more of.

It is a shame when Flip ends up on Nerva City out of the main action, but this is necessary given the extremity of the family drama that plays out around The Doctor. He has enough trouble playing the science fiction equivalent of Jeremy Kyle as he struggles to keep the family together in the midst of coming galactic doom.

The rest of the cast perform very well in their roles particularly Jenny Funnell and Tim Bentinck who play Veronica and Roger. Funnell excels in a role which requires a lot of deep emotional turmoil, in regards to the loss of her son and her anger at everyone, including The Doctor if they so much as lead her on with false hope of any kind.

Some of the supporting characters, including the frankly ridiculously named Toasty, do not come off as well as the main players. I do not think this is a fault of the writing, but they seem to just not have as interesting a dynamic as that between The Doctor, Flip and Veronica and Roger.

I get the feeling that when Wirrn Isle expands the threat to a universal level it loses some of the intense, under siege threat that runs so strongly in the first two episodes. It doesn’t diminish the play at all, but the marvellous sense of claustrophobia is taken away.

Also if you are a lover of transmat action then this is the play for you as the latter half of the story seems to be utterly devoted to it. Although the presence of it adds much to the threat posed by The Wirrn, the story at times ends up being like a game of musical chairs, as one person or Wirrn is transported here there and everywhere for the latter half of the story.

Wirrn Isle is a very good play; a powerful family drama set amongst a horrific science fiction setting that, despite losing some of its momentum towards the end, has enough strong ideas and excellent moments to linger in the memory.

30 March 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st March 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th March 2012

The Doctor has taken his companion Leela to ancient Norfolk to learn about her ancestors but they get a little closer than they hoped. Caught in the middle of a battle between Roman centurions and tribal warriors, the travellers unexpectedly become guests of the legendary warrior queen Boudica.

After hearing of the tragic circumstances which have led to her fight against the Romans, Leela is keen for The Doctor to help Boudica and her tribe, The Iceni overthrow the invaders. The Doctor however is anxious to move on, as incredibly significant events in Boudica’s history are drawing closer and any further interference from him could cause irreparable damage to not only the future of the world but perhaps also a very dear friendship.

After some of the more traditional monsters and corridors stories it is lovely to see The Fourth Doctor and Leela in a purely historical drama. In a way The Doctor actually takes a step back from most of the precedings as this is quite clearly a story about Leela.

A warrior of the Sevateem meeting the most fearsome warrior Queen in history is simply too good an opportunity to pass up and, in the hands of the very skilled John Dorney, the results are fantastic.

It is extraordinary how quickly Leela does fall under Boudica’s spell, but this seems to be very much a consequence of her conflict with The Doctor. Until now she has always believed The Doctor was a force for good, righting the wrongs, defeating the invaders and freeing the subjugated. Now her mentor has challenged this with his desire to leave the Iceni to their fate, all for the sake of preserving the course of unfolding history. But why does The Doctor feel he has the right to decide who is saved and who must die? Through Leela, the ethical and moral choices of The Doctor’s actions come into question and to see Leela replace The Doctor with Boudica as a mentor more on the level of her warrior upbringing is both understandable and believable.

It is a credit to Louise Jameson’s strong and convincing performance that we see Leela’s struggle as she discovers her new Queen to be cruel and heartless in the pursuit of her revenge. One scene in particular when Leela observes Boudica killing innocent and defenceless people stirs the two women into a one on one fight to the death; a scenario that Dorney must have enjoyed writing immensely as it is one of the highlights of the audio.

Following up on the strength of Jameson’s performance is undoubtedly Ella Kenion as Boudica. Her portrayal is electrifying; all at once noble, fierce, cold and monstrous. This is clearly a woman who has dedicated her sole purpose to the extinction of the Roman occupation of her country and anyone who gets in her way will be trampled under horse or run through with her blade.

The Doctor gets to enjoy some lovely scenes with the Iceni cook Bragnar, played by the lovely Nia Roberts. This provides Tom Baker with some nice moments for comedy but Bragnar is given some interesting depth in a subplot in which she overhears The Doctor relate to Leela the tragic fate of the Iceni prompting her decision to flee rather than die a wasteful death.

Supporting players Michael Rouse and Daniel Hawksford are very good in their rather small roles but give enough to elevate their parts from simply being devices to steer the plot forward.

The cast is surprisingly small considering the scale and ambition of the play. The sound design of Richard Fox and Lauren Yason is to be applauded, for bringing the battle scenes to vivid life and for providing an excellent score.

The Wrath of the Iceni is a highly enjoyable play and an excellent character piece, and proof that Big Finish can create a thoughtful and convincing historical adventure story - let us hope that they do more of them.

30 March 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st March 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th March 2012

UNIT have recovered a damaged Alien computer, and for once they do not require The Doctor’s help. Preferring to keep their scientific advisor in the dark, they call in Dr Elizabeth Shaw, to oversee the repair of this alien technology. All is not what it seems however as the soldiers who had been guarding the computer have vanished without a trace.

To help her in the repairs UNIT have sent to Liz a computer expert by the name of Sergeant Andrew Childs. As repairs begin it is not long before Liz and Sergeant Childs find themselves inside the computer.

Trapped and desperate to escape, Liz and Childs begin to traverse the inner workings of the computer. But why are they finding the vanished soldiers dead and just what is stalking them through the mainframe? The Doctor is not around to save the day this time, so Liz must find her own way out but can the increasingly evasive Childs be trusted?

Liz Shaw, one of the shortest lived companions in the history of Doctor Who, but despite this has made a rather strong impact in the hearts of many fans. So it seems only fitting that Big Finish are determined to give this Companion the life she should have had on screen and have pulled out this rather fun and thoughtful Companion Chronicle.

What is at first striking about Binary is the decision to make this release a full cast audio drama rather than a talking book. This is rare for the Companion Chronicles, one of the last releases to get this treatment was the superb Solitaire, but the effect really helps this story as it is nice to hear Caroline John reacting to another actor instead of creating the parts herself.

The story of Binary is a good one. It is not brilliant or particularly striking but it is entertaining. The concept of being trapped in a computer is not a new one, but there is enough ideas running throughout the story to help it elevate past more than a mere run around story. One of most interesting parts of Binary is the idea of a computer producing an organic life form to fix faults within it. Although this does generate a stereotypical foe to chase Liz around a corridor, the concept is so highly original you can forgive the short comings of its ultimate execution.

The cast all work well together, particularly Caroline John. John portrays Liz as a woman struggling to make something of herself in a man’s world, and her bitterness towards the sexism and the patronising attitude of The Doctor (who appears in this story thanks to messages on a screen) really add depth to Liz’s character.

Joe Coen as Seargent Childs is excellent in the role and although the revelation of the true nature of his character is at times rather obvious. Coen, though, brings enough charm and subtle manipulation to the part to make any listener second guess his character’s motives.

The full cast play format is an excellent device for the Companion Chronicles as a series and I for one would like to see Big Finish exploring the possibilities of this direction with future releases in the range.

Binary is an entertaining and intriguing addition to the Companion Chronicles, with some very good performances and for anyone jumping on board is a lovely introduction to a sadly short lived TV companion.

29 February 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Justin Richards

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 29th February 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 29th February 2012

Knowledge is power. To know everything, every piece of knowledge that has ever existed is the desire of many but at what cost? Is knowledge detrimental to learning and understanding? You can list species of butterfly but do you know that they are beautiful?

This is the question that runs through the heart of this really enjoyable adventure for The Fourth Doctor.

The Doctor is determined to continue Leela’s education and decides that a trip to the universally famous Morovanian Museum is just what she needs. Upon arrival, things don’t go according to plan. First of all, why are they in an English village and just why are people dying around them, driven mad by the loss of something great?

The Doctor quickly begins to deduce that the mysterious Reginald Harcourt, resident of the local manor maybe the cause of the sinister goings on. Harcourt is the owner of The Collection, a place where everything, all knowledge and artefacts from everywhere are present. But as the Doctor points out, it is not fully complete and there is someone who will do just about anything to achieve its completion. Someone more than prepared to kill.

After the slightly underwhelming Destination: Nerva, The Renaissance Man is a much stronger entry in the new Fourth Doctor range.

Justin Richards' script is witty and clever. He captures the character of The Fourth Doctor and Leela very well, setting up the Pygmalion relationship that Big Finish is exploring with this series of adventures. Louise Jameson’s performance is very strong in this story despite the overuse of Leela’s mispronunciation of words, such as her repeated use of “runny science” for renaissance. Although Leela came from a primitive culture she is certainly not stupid. This however is a minor criticism of a well written and delivered portrayal. In fact, the relationship between The Doctor and Leela is much improved from that of their television appearances and this is definitely down to the way they are written. I hope that Big Finish continue to build upon this, as it is fast becoming one of my favourite Doctor and companion partnerships.

The supporting cast is good, particularly Laura Molyneaux in the dual role of Beryl and Professor Hilda Lutterthwaite but they are somewhat over-shadowed by guest star Ian McNeice as Harcourt. An intriguing villain, played excellently by the actor, especially when he and Baker get a verbal sparring, providing one of the highlights of the audio.

This brings us to the great man himself, Tom Baker. It has been a pleasure to listen to him return to the role of The Doctor, and he gives a brilliant performance here. In Destination: Nerva, The Doctor had to rely on luck and his wits, but here we see him relying on his keen intelligence, working things out way ahead of everyone else. He plays the fool and pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes before playing the detective with a great Christie-style revelation at the stories conclusion. Baker is witty, charming and brings out The Fourth Doctor’s moral centre beautifully, and the play is well worth your time based on his performance alone.

The main theme running through the story of knowledge versus experience is well realized. The darkest moment of the play, involving a character losing the knowledge which defines her, leading to a gruesome outcome, is rather powerful. This theme is explored very well and only seems to jar in the somewhat weaker epilogue.

Everything about The Renaissance Man is quintessential Doctor Who. It contains great ideas, two excellent lead performances and an intriguing story.

A highly recommended listen.

29 January 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Guerrier

RRP: £12.99

Release Date: 31st January 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 29th January 2012

Whilst being pursued by the Daleks across time during the events of The Daleks Masterplan, Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom have found a small moment to relax but as they know, travelling with the Doctor means it will not last long. 

Whilst in the vortex, an experimental time ship crashes into the TARDIS, ripping the time capsule apart. The Doctor and his companions, along with the crew of the other ship awake on a desert island, the TARDIS nowhere to be seen. The occupants of the ship are human pioneers, the first of their kind to travel in time. It isn’t long before mutual distrust begins to build with Steven and Sara caught in the middle.

Time then begins to run out for both of them as they then find themselves on the other side of the Berlin Wall in 1966. Why are they there and will they have to betray the Doctor to escape? Whatever they decide, they are certainly not alone as something is stalking them both; a legend of the Doctor’s home world, and one that may be all too real.

The Anachronauts is the first Companion Chronicle release this year and Big Finish seem to be celebrating as this is a special two disc release. The narrative structure Simon Guerrier has chosen for this story justifies the need for a double release as it is told between Steven and Sara, alternating narration duties over the four episodes. 

Guerrier’s script is intricate and full of many twists and turns. He is incredibly clever at littering clues to the outcome of the story which will reward repeated listens. However this complex intricacy can hamper some of the themes he touches upon. One theme in particular is the idea of Steven and Sara betraying the Doctor and what he believes in to keep themselves both alive. This is not explored as much as you would like it to be, as there is so much going on, it simply serves to work towards the twist in the play’s conclusion.

Overall, the story feels a bit drawn out; this is due partially to the major change of location at the beginning of episode three. Whilst the adventure does go off in a new direction, the effect is rather jarring at first and seems to render the first two parts redundant. 

The strongest element of this story is the relationship between Steven and Sara, which is explored from each of their point of view. We get a fascinating insight into how these two characters have a growing respect and closeness which would never really been touched upon in the television series. This is the great strength of The Anachronauts, and the performances of Peter Purves and Jean Marsh bring it to life.

Both actors work wonderfully together, and Purves' impersonation of the first Doctor, William Hartnell is still a great joy to listen to. It is incredible just how vivid his characterisation is, successfully creates the illusion of a third actor being amongst the cast.

The Anachronauts is an interesting Companion Chronicle, with two very strong central performances, but despite a story that gets a little lost in its own intricacy, it is certainly worth a listen.

27 January 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st January 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 27th January 2012

It was just over a year ago that Philippa “Flip” Jackson found herself on an alien world being chased by giant robot mosquitoes in the company of a man known as “The Doctor”.

Now, stuck in a dead end job and relationship with her boyfriend Jared, she feels her life is going nowhere. So imagine her surprise when during a night on the town, a flying saucer crashes into the middle of London carrying one occupant, the Doctor.

However there is something not quite right about him; he is acting strangely and it doesn’t help that he is being hunted down by his old enemy, the Daleks.

With the Doctor a fugitive, Flip will soon be thrust into the real heart of the Dalek’s schemes; plans which are taking place two hundred years in the past on the fields of Waterloo. The fate of Europe hangs on this one moment in history and its outcome is threatened by the interference of the deranged creator of the Daleks; Davros.

This is a new year and we start the first release of the Big Finish Doctor Who main range with a brand new companion. To see Flip again, a character that originally appeared in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster, is a surprise to say the least. As returning characters go it was certainly not one I was expecting but after hearing the performance of Lisa Greenwood, it is soon obvious what a good decision it was.

Greenwood is utterly charming as Flip. Her streetwise attitude and accent could put you in mind of Rose from the new series, but she is so good in the role that any thought of comparison is brief. The character works as a great counterbalance to the Sixth Doctor, whose companions have been more of the, without wanting to sound snobbish, educated kind. Since Peri was a graduate and Evelyn an academic, it is nice to see that Flip is cut from a rougher side of the tracks. I have high hopes for her character working well with The Sixth Doctor.

Colin Baker is once again proving just how good a Doctor and skilled an actor he is. Without giving too much away, his performance of a Doctor not quite acting himself, is played with brilliant subtlety. He makes you question everything he does throughout so when the twist comes at the end of part two, even if you do figure it out before then, you appreciate just how well the actor kept you guessing.

This release is even more noteworthy for the return of Terry Molloy to Big Finish as Davros. Molloy is always a joy to listen to as the Dalek creator, particularly when the character is up against The Sixth Doctor. Baker and Molloy play off each other so well as they have done in previous Big Finish stories Davros and The Juggernauts, that the plot twist in this story only serves to strengthen that interplay.

The Curse of Davros is lucky to have an excellent supporting cast, and with special mention going to Jonathan Owen as Napoleon. His performance is a real highlight of this audio, especially towards its conclusion, as Owen’s very human but flawed Bonaparte is refreshing change to many previously unsympathetic dramatic portrayals of the French Emperor.

Nicholas Briggs holds the directing duties and once more voices the Daleks and to hear them again with their creator is great fun. One of the dangers of having Davros and the Daleks together is that sometimes their threat and menace can be lost. The Daleks can easily just become drones, and lose some of their cunning and malevolence. The Daleks in this story are indeed servants of Davros, but what is interesting is that they appear to be utterly terrified of him. One scene is particularly striking, when two Daleks admit their failure and are taught a lesson by their creator in a shockingly cruel way.

This simple twist helps to give Davros a much more dangerous edge and it is a credit to Briggs’ skill with the Dalek voices that he makes the fear of their creator very believable.

Jonathan Morris has written a fun and exciting story with some excellent character moments and an intriguing insight into the Davros character. It is difficult to find fault with this play, except to say I have some disappointment that the very well written character of Jared will be absent from the future audios, as Ashley Kumar was very good in the role.

Overall The Curse of Davros is a fantastic audio adventure and an excellent introduction to a what I’m sure will become a memorable companion.

13 January 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Robert Banks Stewart, adapted by John Dorney & Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Jonathan Morris

RRP: £55.00

Release Date: 31st January 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th January 2012

Tom Baker’s first Big Finish audio adventure is finally here and what better way to celebrate than with the simultaneous release of The Fourth Doctor Lost Stories Box-set.

Just as Destination: Nerva set out to celebrate one of the most iconic settings of the early Tom Baker era, this box-set unearths the lost contributions of two giants of that part of the show’s history.

Robert Banks Stewart was the man behind two classic Tom Baker stories; Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom. To see an unfinished story of his brought to completion is, for me, one of the great selling points of this set. If that wasn’t enough, the latter story was conceived by none other than Philip Hinchcliffe, one of the most celebrated of Doctor Who’s producers, and the man heavily associated with the success of the Tom Baker period of the show.

The Foe from the Future

By Robert Stewart Banks (adapted by John Dorney)

The TARDIS lands in the village of Staffham in 1977 and it isn’t long before the Doctor and Leela are caught up in strange goings on. The Grange, a stately home in the forest outside the village has long believed to be haunted and recently frightening visions of Highwaymen and Cavaliers are appearing at an alarming rate. The Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts, but when a man turns up dead, his curiosity is piqued.

What do these haunting have to do with the rather mysterious owner of the Grange, Lord Jalnik, and what precisely is he up to? The Doctor soon uncovers a plot that spans across two thousand years, and if it succeeds, history will cease to exist.

The Foe from the Future was the story that was replaced by The Talons of Weng-Chiang and it is easy to see why as the scope of this tale would’ve stretched even the most generous BBC budget. It dashes backwards and forwards through time, has a rather large supporting cast and a creature whose impact may have suffered at the limitations of the decade’s special effects. But thank goodness Big Finish have brought it back to life as The Foe from the Future turns out to be one of the most enjoyable plays the company has produced.

Everything about this production is first rate. Tom Baker is quite simply brilliant and you can hear he is having a jolly good time with how mad the play gets. Louise Jameson is superb too, and both the leads are complimented by a fine supporting cast, the most notable member being Paul Freeman as Jalnik. Freeman is a joy to listen to in his portrayal of a rather unhinged and pathetic shadow of man, bringing easily to mind the more complex villains of this era of Doctor Who. Special mention must go to Lousie Brealey, who wonderfully plays the affectionately named “Charlotte from the Village”.

John Dorney is to be commended for his sterling adaptation of this story, as it is filled with action, mystery and a surprising but not unwelcome ghoulish sense of humour.

A six part story must have been a mammoth undertaking for Big Finish, but not one episode is dull or unnecessary. It is a remarkable achievement and it has already become a favourite of this reviewer. 

The Valley of Death

By Philip Hinchcliffe (adapted by Jonathan Morris)

The Victorian explorer, Cornelius Perkins, mysteriously vanished in the jungle whilst searching for the lost city of the Maygor Tribe. His diary however was recovered and fell into the hands of his Great Grandson Edward. Edward is now planning a new expedition to pick up the trail from where his ancestor left off, the entirety of which to be covered by photo journalist Valerie Carlton. The diary's descriptions of what appears to be a crashed spaceship alert UNIT who send along their scientific advisor and his savage companion to join Perkins in his quest.

When their plane crash lands in the middle of the jungle, things begin to go from bad to worse. Amongst the thickness of the trees and vines, strange creatures are waiting and tribesmen are watching, as the Doctor, Edward, Valerie and Leela step ever closer towards the fabled Valley of Death. What they find there, will be far more deadly than mere legend.

The Valley of Death is great fun, particularly the opening two episodes. They have the feel of a Boys’ Own adventure with some dashes of Indiana Jones and a deliciously science fiction twist. The cast are quite clearly enjoying themselves throughout and Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are building an incredibly strong partnership in these plays already. The genuine affection and mutual respect the Doctor and Leela afford to one another is played beautifully and I really hope these Lost Stories and the first Series of Fourth Doctor adventures will not be the last we see of them.

The best performance of the play is by far Nigel Carrington as the central antagonist of the piece Emissary Godrin. He is a wonderfully fiendish creation; a warped genius with a cruel sense of humour, which makes him an excellent opponent for the Fourth Doctor.

A story of two halves, the first two episodes of The Valley of Death are based exclusively in the jungle and the play shifts not only location but tone for the last two episodes. There could have been a danger in losing the momentum and atmosphere created by the opening episodes but this change only serves to enrich the adventure.

Although is not as strong as The Foe from the Future, The Valley of Death is a highly enjoyable adventure and a great closing story for the box-set.

If you have never listened to any of the Lost Stories or even bought any of Big Finish’s box sets, this is would be the place to start for any true fan as it is a brilliant recreation of classic era Doctor Who.

Despite some minor niggles here and there this box set it is as close to perfection as you can get with well deserved full marks. 

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12 January 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st January 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th January 2012

The wait is over. This is the moment many Doctor Who fans have longed for: Tom Baker’s first Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure. The weight of expectation for this release is enormous and it shows just how important Tom Baker is in the history of Doctor Who and to its many fans.

After years of resisting, and with a little encouraging from Nicholas Briggs, Louise Jameson, and even DWO itself, Tom Baker finally came round to working with Big Finish - and not just for a one off. Destination: Nerva marks the first in many more adventures to come and from the evidence of this release; it is a rather jolly good start.

After the defeat of Magnus Greel (in the televised story; The Talons of Weng-Chiang), The Doctor intends to further Leela’s education, but is interrupted when the TARDIS receives a mysterious signal. Leading them to a Victorian mansion owned by the mysterious Lord Jack, they discover a massacre inside the house; Soldiers and Alien beings lie dead at each other’s hands. The words of the last dying creature, a Drelleran, spur the Doctor and Leela on the trail of a stolen spaceship, little knowning the chase will bring the Doctor back to a familiar place from his past.

The newly built Nerva space dock is undergoing constant repairs and as a maintenance ship arrives to sort out the problems, a mysterious pod arrives carrying with it something so deadly that it could destroy the whole human race. As the threat consumes Nerva, The Doctor must try to figure out how the evils of the past may have a dangerous impact on the future of mankind.

Now it must be said, as delighted as fans were that Baker was to make his Big Finish debut, there were one or two concerns from others. How would Baker be in the productions? Would he ham it up and not take it seriously? Would he sound bored and unmoved by what he was performing?

Fortunately all would prove unfounded, as Baker’s performance is fantastic! He slips back into the role of the Fourth Doctor with such ease it's almost as if he never stopped playing the part. He is funny, moody, mad and just as heroic as you remember him. It is quite clear from listening to him here that Baker is having the time of his life in the part once again. It is this enthusiasm for the role that reignites his excellent chemistry with Louise Jameson as Leela, and the two of them carry the play beautifully. Despite the passage of time, they sound almost exactly as they did back in 1977, and you cannot help but be captivated by their performances. The benefit of audio has allowed The Doctor and Leela’s relationship to deepen, and if this develops throughout the rest of the series, they are going to make an excellent TARDIS team once again.

As for the supporting cast, many of whom are in roles that are seemingly more to serve the progression of the story than anything else; all do well, with special mention going to Raquel Cassidy. As Dr Alison Foster, Cassidy puts in a lovely, subtle and moving performance which is a perfect counterbalance to the big personality of Tom Baker’s Doctor. But this is Baker and Jameson’s show, and every time they are not present in the story, you are yearning for their immediate return.

Writer and director Nicholas Briggs, knows that this story has to lay down a mission statement for the Fourth Doctor adventures as a series. Destination: Nerva is not always successful in its approach but it is still highly entertaining. The opening sequence in the mansion is very effective and engrossing and the sudden jump to Nerva is at first a little jarring. The play then takes a while for the pace to pick back up, as it carefully sets up the events that are to play out in the second episode. But by the action-packed and rather gruesome episode two, the story finds itself back on track.

Briggs has recreated an authentic atmosphere of the latter part of the Hinchcliffe era and there is also a whiff of The Ark in Space. This is not just with the inclusion of Nerva, but the rather horrible moments of body horror as, without giving too much away, human beings are consumed by a biological threat.

The ultimate revelation of the enemy’s identity is not too surprising but Brigg’s idea of what would happen if the jingoistic policies of the British Empire went to space is highly intriguing. It is not explored as much as you would like, given the two episode format, but Briggs gives us just enough to turn what could have been another base under siege story into something more thoughtful.

Everything about the production seems keen to recreate the feel of the Tom Baker era, right down to the old Radiophonic Workshop sound effects and Jamie Robertson’s Dudley Simpson-esque musical score. Technically, the production is flawless, and if you were a viewer back in the seventies, it is indeed like Saturday Night Teatime all over again.

Destination: Nerva, is a story which has a bit of the old and a bit of the new, and while not everything about the story works perfectly, it is still very good fun and a fantastic debut for Tom Baker at Big Finish.

24 December 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jason Arnopp

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st December 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th December 2011

On the world of Draxine, the continent of Zelonia is in crisis. The city of Garruk is in ruins, completely obliterated by an explosion of monumental proportions. What makes this tragedy more horrific is the fact that it was caused by the hand of the city’s own leader President Harmon, the same man who was found to be the figure head of a sinister death cult.

As if things couldn’t be worse, Garruk’s twin city Stronghaven is in political turmoil. President Karnex has recently been assassinated, and his replacement, Vallan faces a troubled and distrustful populace, particularly since the assassin has just escaped from prison.

The Doctor and Mary Shelley arrive on Zelonia, as a much more frightening chain of events begins to unfold. Something is coming from out of the dark of the ruined city, and it is growing in number and getting closer. Garruk’s dead is rising, and the bones of those who perished are on the march, heading in one direction; the very centre of Stronghaven. 

The Doctor and Mary are caught in the middle as the skeletons Garruk’s dead converge on the outnumbered citizens of Stronghaven. The Doctor realizes there is much more to this affair than the supernatural, but just what terrible truths will he uncover and will everyone survive?

Army of Death is the final play in this trilogy of Eighth Doctor stories is and it is a real gem. The quality of the previous entries has been built upon and this story can proudly hold itself up as one of Big Finish’s best releases of the year. Everything here is crafted expertly. 

The story is very strong, and the plot is so beautifully constructed by Jason Arnopp that not a dull moment goes by throughout its running time. Arnopp has managed to bring a great mixture of thrills, tension and character and this can be seen in the superb performances from the cast.

Paul McGann turns in a stellar performance as the more youthful incarnation of the Eighth Doctor, and you can see the fun he is having as an actor particularly in a very good interrogation scene opposite President Vallan. His Doctor is well served by the writing, as he is courageous, moral, alien and funny. There is a simple joy to see McGann, let go and have some fun with the character.

Then we come to the sublime Julie Cox who once again impresses as Mary Shelley and qucikly becoming another excellent companion for the Eighth Doctor. Even when the characters are separated by events, she is still a delight to listen to as she portrays Mary’s intelligence, compassion and warmth effortlessly. What is wonderful to see is the mutual trust she and the Doctor have with one another. Although she may not always agree with him, she knows that whatever the Doctor decides to do will be the right thing. 

Their relationship goes through some rather surprising developments in this play and it is a credit to Arnopp’s expert handling of them that they do not jar with the overall story, and work to its advantage.

Army of Death is blessed with a very fine supporting cast and no one, no matter how small the role is not left standing on the sidelines. As President Vallan, David Harewood is magnificent, infusing the character with a real humanity as he tries to confront his own growing terror and the reality of his incompetence in the face of the approaching army. He is a man that just wants to do what is right, and his eventual fate is given a much more horrible edge by the brilliance of Harewood’s performance.

Excellent turns come also from, Carolyn Pickles as Lady Meera, Eva Pope as the damaged Nia Brusk, but special mention must go to guest star Mitch Benn.

Playing two roles, Commander Rayner and the aforementioned Karnex, comedian, Benn shows just what a great actor he is. Rayner is a wonderfully to the point solider and his prescence is always welcome but it is with Karnex that Benn has the most fun. Without giving the game away, it must be said that when Karnex is present, it is both creepy and fun. You can hear self-confessed Whovian Benn having the time of his life in the role, and it is one of the many highlights of this release. 

There is very little to criticize here, apart from one or two minor niggles, but if anything predominately negative has to be raised, it is just that the post credit scene is not as strong as the cliff-hanger that comes before. But that is a minor issue compared to the wealth of strong material on show here.

There has been a theme running throughout this trilogy, helping to nurture the ever growing seed of Frankenstein in Mary’s future. The Silver Turk, The Witch from the Well and Army of Death have all dealt with the very nature of death and the control of life. All three warn of the danger and fear of powers mere mortals were not meant to use. This unifying theme has helped to give the trilogy scope and identity, making them all strong stories which complement one another wonderfully.

After the traumatic conclusion to the Eighth Doctor and Lucie adventures, this exploration of the past has proven to be a winning formula for Big Finish. It has given faithful listeners, not just a breather, but an invigorating and excellent run of stories and one the strongest trilogies that Big Finish has ever released.

Highly recommended.

24 December 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Christopher Bailey and Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st December 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th December 2011

Christopher Bailey is a writer well-regarded by Doctor Who fans and Kinda is one of most popular stories in the show’s history. This is extraordinary considering only two of Bailey’s stories reached broadcast, the last being Kinda’s sequel, Snakedance. Bailey did have two other scripts that went under consideration by the BBC that were eventually rejected. The first was May Time and the other, The Children of Seth. The rejection of both stories drove Bailey away from a career in television and back into a life of academia. 

Bailey’s thoughtful and complex stories have stood out to fans and have grown in reputation over the years, even gaining a DVD boxset to those stories alone earlier this year. So it is with high expectations that Big Finish, with Marc Platt’s adaptation, bring to completion Bailey’s missing work to close this season of Fifth Doctor lost stories. 

The story begins when an experiment of Nyssa’s brings up a message on the TARDIS’ temporal scanner. It is simply one word “Idra”. The Doctor is intrigued enough to set a course for the origin of the signal, the Archipelago of Sirius.

Whilst there, Nyssa, Tegan and the Doctor discover a society on the brink of war, as the mighty Autarch is due to announce a new campaign against the enemy of his people: Seth, the Prince of the Dark. It soon becomes clear, that all is not as it seems, for deep in the court lies treachery and something unexpected and sinister building in power. Will the TARDIS crew discover the mystery at the heart of Sirius and just what is on the dreaded Level 14?

The Children of Seth is not an easy listen. This is to the play’s credit, however. The story is complex, and provides many questions and multiple plot strands. This is not a story that you can idly dip in and out of as it requires nothing less than your full attention. The story is not hard to follow at all, but its complexity only serves to enrich the listening experience. Since this play derives from a Christopher Bailey story it is hardly a surprise. Marc Platt is to be commended for bringing Bailey’s ideas to life, and adding his own distinctive touches to the final work.

There are some great performances here, particularly Adrian Lukis as the villain of the piece, Lord Byzan. This is a wonderfully power hungry character, driven to destroy any threat no matter how small from achieving his goals. It is one of the highlights of the play, which includes even more great performances from Honor Blackman as Anahita and Vernon Dobtcheff as Shemur.

However not all the cast is well served by the story. David Warner, who plays the role of Siris, the Autarch, is in very little of the play, and only comes to the foreground toward the end. In the handful of scenes he is in, the character merely becomes a senile leader, completely overwhelmed by the events that are occurring around him. It is a little bit of a waste for an actor of his talent, but for the time he is there, Warner’s presence is a welcome one.

Poor Sarah Sutton is once again, as has been common in this trilogy, relegated to the sidelines, allowing Janet Fielding to come out in front. Tegan is well served by this story, and Fielding’s great performance makes up for the lack of Nyssa. It would be nice to see more of these two companions together in future stories, as the moments when they are together are great fun to listen to. 

It is difficult to review The Children of Seth without giving too much away and I have to say that not everything about the play works, but it is a slow and rewarding play and I believe those rewards will increase on repeated listens.

This trilogy of lost stories has revealed a definite linking theme. These are stories about hierarchies and societies perilously close to collapse from the corruption of morals and ideals from within. Each story presents a leader of people, unaware of the chaos that will soon erupt and when it does it is disastrous for all concerned.  It would have been interesting to see if this story had made it to television, as it is certainly one of the most interesting, surreal and thoughtful Doctor Who lost stories I’ve experienced.

The Children of Seth is certainly not for a casual listener if such a thing exists. It requires much more of you, and although not perfect, it is certainly a recommended conclusion to a thought provoking trilogy.

17 December 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Terrance Dicks

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st December 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 17th December 2011

There are some sequels that are inevitable, and there are those which are completely unexpected, and this new release in The Companion Chronicles is certainly one of the latter.

Jason and Crystal have survived yet another adventure in the TARDIS, and the Doctor has managed to hoodwink both of them into recording a report of it to the Time Lords, something he himself would rather avoid. Together, they both relate what happened. The adventure begins when their former enemy Karl, contacts the Doctor to attend the funeral of Madam Delilah, hostess of the Bar Galactica. But Karl has ulterior motives. He has heard of the legend of Ultima Thule, a legend made more compelling by the words of a dying fellow mercenary. For at Ultima Thule, there is hidden treasure and a very serious threat to the whole of the Universe. The TARDIS crew with Karl in tow seek out the truth behind the legend, and a dark new enemy waits for their arrival, including a few old ones...

When Big Finish decided to make an audio version of The Ultimate Adventure Stage play, it was met with excitement and nervousness. After all, this was a pantomime of Doctor Who, and if that weren’t horrifying enough to some it also had songs. Songs!

The final result however was, I felt, a rather fun and charming piece of Who lore put together and performed really well. It was certainly surprising to hear that a sequel was to be made, so long after the original play was written.

Let’s get the good or bad news out of the way first. There are no songs this time round. What is interesting though, is that, unusually for a Companion Chronicle, the Doctor himself is involved in the action as played by the ever reliable Colin Baker.

The play also has the added appeal of Terrance Dicks returning to the same characters, in his Big Finish debut. It is always fun to see Dicks return to writing Doctor Who, as he always manages to pull something interesting from up his sleeve.

Noel Sullivan and Claire Huckle both reprise their roles as Jason and Crystal and they provide the main focus of the play as it unfolds. It is puzzling that this sequel was done the way it has been, as, with the exception of David Banks, the entire main cast has returned. It might’ve made more sense to have done this play as a full cast audio as opposed to a talking book.

Since Banks is not here reprising Karl, his presence is filled in by both Huckle and Sullivan throughout. One of the guilty pleasures is hearing Sullivan deliver Karl’s cockney lines in Jason’s French accent, particularly since that accent is at times perilously close to ‘Allo ‘Allo quality.

That is not to say that the performances are bad. Far from it, for Huckle and Sullivan are engaging narrators and perform the piece in the spirit it was intended.

As the year draws to a close, it seems that after a run of rather thoughtful Companion Chronicles, Big Finish have decided to have a little bit of fun. The play as a whole is very true to the spirit in which its predecessor was written and even has the fun feel of a Choose your own adventure book, where you’re not quite sure what is going to happen next. Despite this, not everything works.

The sudden appearances of various old monsters from Who lore (ones, it should be mentioned, that are famously associated with Dicks) can be quite jarring, and seem to be of little point other than to be yet another obstacle for the Doctor and his friends to get past. When we do meet the villain of the piece, he is a rather simple creation, and dispatched of in an infuriatingly easy manner.

But this is not a play for fans of deep dark storytelling. This is after all a sequel to The Ultimate Adventure. Cynicism must be kept low or completely switched off. This a universe in Doctor Who, where old enemies pop up out of the blue without a second thought and are dispatched just as quickly; A world where an 80s night club singer and a French aristocrat can travel the far corners of space and time together. It is also a world where one can repeat the phrase “murderous mercenaries” at various times and not feel a little silly.

All in all Beyond the Ultimate Adventure is trying to be nothing more than the fun romp it is and it succeeds at that well enough. It sadly it lacks some of the charm that made The Ultimate Adventure such a fun listen, but if you’re looking for different and just plain camp Doctor Who then this release is recommended.

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